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The Boston Globe

Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

The good and the bad of Gabriel Gomez

Gabriel Gomez greeted voters at the Broadway MBTA station in South Boston on May 1, the day after he won the GOP primary in the race for the US Senate.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Gabriel Gomez greeted voters at the Broadway MBTA station in South Boston on May 1, the day after he won the GOP primary in the race for the US Senate.

Sometimes in appraising candidates, one finds oneself torn between two countervailing instincts.

On the one hand, there’s author Alex Haley’s pithily positive imperative: “Find the good and praise it.” But there’s also the tug of Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s more caustic counsel: “If you haven’t got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

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Today, let’s apply those dueling perspectives to Republican US Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez, who on Monday toured a Woburn firm that manufactures machine components. Haley would likely note that the former Navy SEAL and private-equity investor went out of his way to talk with the employees, and not just hobnob with the bosses.

Further, he was accessible. Rather than skittering away like a baby chipmunk (or an adult Scott Brown) afterward, he held a press availability and took a wide variety of questions.

Part of Gomez’s purpose was to highlight his proposal to “reboot” Congress. Crafted more with an eye to campaign-trail appeal than to constitutional niceties, they include the line-item veto, a lifetime prohibition on former members of Congress becoming lobbyists, a withholding of congressional pay when budget deadlines are missed, a pay freeze during a lawmaker’s time in office, mandatory blind trusts for Congress folk, and a balanced-budget amendment.

That package, however, ignores perhaps the biggest problem plaguing Washington: the abuse of the filibuster to require that nearly every piece of important legislation must get 60 affirmative votes. So as a senator, would Gomez join the GOP’s reflexive filibusters or would he be a vote for a process where a simple majority would regularly rule?

“I would prefer to have all reasonable votes come to the floor, absolutely,” Gomez said. “Whether you are a Democrat or Republican in the Oval Office, I think we need to move things along.” Gomez earns real points there. He’d earn even more if he’d make that inclination a concrete commitment.

Now it’s time for a little of Alice’s asperity. After his tour of the Custom Group, Gomez declared that the Senate race should be “about jobs, about the economy, about small business, how we can grow these small businesses like this right here.”

So what’s his plan to do that?

“We gotta go down there and have business policies that are friendly to businesses like this,” Gomez replied. “We gotta give these guys an opportunity to complete globally . . . Like I said, we need to have policies that are friendly to businesses. There’s a bunch of them that have been passed down from D.C. that just aren’t friendly.”

Examples? Gomez had one: Obamacare.

“Look, everybody should have . . . access to affordable and good health care,” he said. “But it should have been done on a state level. It shouldn’t bind businesses like this, where they have to worry about hiring the 51st employee as opposed to worrying about whether they should hire more and more employees.”

Now, Obamacare is far from perfect, but Gomez’s critique is a curious one for a Bay State candidate to make. After all, this state’s health care law already requires companies with 21 or more employees to offer health care coverage or pay a penalty. That law doesn’t seem to have hurt the state’s economy; the economic recovery here is outpacing the nation’s.

Nationally, meanwhile, almost all firms with 51 or more employees — the Obamacare threshold for requiring health care coverage — already offer it. (With about 80 employees, the Custom Group has long had a health care plan.)

All of that makes it hard to credit the argument that Obamacare is or will be a big jobs inhibitor here. Actually, a national law that requires small firms elsewhere to offer health care coverage could help level the playing field for Bay State firms.

And what else is Gomez proposing to help small companies?

“I would make it easier so they can go get a loan,” he said.

Interestingly, the business leaders I’ve talked to don’t identify that as a major problem in Massachusetts.

So here’s the overall political picture: Gomez seems like an affable guy. But given that his campaign is built on his supposed business knowledge, shouldn’t he have something broader and more substantive to offer?

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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